I was born March 15, 1941 at Mt. Carmel Hospital in Detroit, Michigan and lived at 726 S. Washington for the next thirteen years of my life. Although there was a major world war being waged for part of this time, I was not old enough to be aware of it, and my time in Royal Oak proved to be a happy and fulfilling experience. I have always been quick to point out to whomever would listen that living in Royal Oak during the 40's and early 50's provided me with a source of many wonderful memories. I hope that reading this will prove to be interesting to others.
My parents were Ogle Desmond Scott and Virginia Eleanor (Ellis) Scott. They both graduated from Royal Oak High School. My dad’s parents were George and Elizabeth Scott and lived on Lincoln just West of Washington. Grandfather Scott was quite significant in Royal Oak history. He was a Royal Oak Constable in the 20's, was very active in the Elks, including being the Grand Exalted Ruler, was a Republican Elector, owned Royal Oak Finance Company, and was an original stockholder of the Royal Oak Tribune. He also owned significant properties around the area. My dad was an excellent athlete and was a significant basketball and football player at Royal Oak High School. Later on he was Chief of the Royal Oak Volunteer Fire Department. I have memories of being awakened in the middle of the night; driving madly to the location of a fire and watching my dad hold the hose. My mother’s parents were Frances and Katherine Ellis, and during the time that I remember them, they lived on Lawson Street. Among other things, Frances Ellis was an excellent photographer and left behind a wonderful legacy of photos for ensuing generations to enjoy. Katherine Ellis, in addition to raising five wonderful children, was a prolific artist and specialized in oil still life paintings.
When Grandpa Scott owned Royal Oak Finance Company I used to walk in there from time to time. I don’t remember what for, probably to say hello to Grandpa if he was in there. The employees would invariably greet my arrival by saying, “Well look who’s here. It’s Robert Gerald Income Tax Scott” due to my birthday being on March 15th which is when taxes used to be due. Now it is only known for being the Ides of March when Julius Caesar was supposedly slain. Not exactly what you want to be associated with.
Three of my aunts and uncles lived in Royal Oak for varying periods of time. They were my Uncle George Jason Scott, who was my dad’s older brother, My Uncle Edward Dale Ellis along with his wife Aunt Kay, and my Uncle Frank Barron along with his wife Marion (Ellis) Barron. Uncle Dale and aunt Kay had four sons, Mike, John, Tim and Tom Ellis. Uncle Frank and Aunt Marion had a daughter Susan. They all lived in Royal Oak for significant periods of their lives and Dale and Kay still live on Vermont.
I have an older brother George Ellis Scott who graduated from Royal Oak High School and a younger sister Mary Christina (Scott) Rogelstad who spent only part of grade school at Washington. I attended Washington Grade School and Jane Adams Jr. High the first year that it opened, and then my family moved to Birmingham, which is where my sister and I graduated from public schools.
My memories of growing up in Royal Oak are like a kaleidoscope of people, places and experiences. So, I will attempt to recount them in no particular order of importance with just a few exceptions. Beside my family, the most significant person in my life was Charles H. (Chuckie) Button who I met during the first day of Kindergarten at Washington Grade School. I was ushered into the room and immediately ran into Chuckie who was sweeping the floor and apparently quite proud of being entrusted with the job. From that time on we were nearly inseparable and experienced many adventures together. We still see each other quite often and he is still running the Wm. L. Button Rental Company on S. Washington, which he purchased many years ago from his dad William L. Button. Chucküfs dad and his mother Wilma were like a second set of parents to me since I spent so much time at their house. They were both wonderful people and Mr. Button was a significant employer for a long time and was more proud of that than whatever amount of money he was able to make. Mrs. Button was a warm, kind person and made the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the whole world!
I remember many of my teachers from Washington Grade School. Mrs. Gilbert was our Kindergarten teacher. I also remember Mrs. Fort who was our Library and Gym teacher and made us spend a lot of time square dancing in gym class when we would have rather been
playing dodge ball. I also remember a Ms. Knowles, Mr. Lamb and Mrs. Lawson, who were all teachers of various grades. I remember most of all Mrs. Gay Connell who was our art teacher for a few years. She was a gorgeous blond who I believe was Miss MSU when she was at State, was as nice as could be, and I adored her. I think she was one of the main reasons that I ended up going to MSU and majoring in art.
Some of the names that I remember from my grade school class were: Mike Rich, Judy Jewitt, Gloria Orloff, Janice and Judy Lunsky, John Kennedy, Mike Kratsky, Kenneth Collier, Pat Martin, Pat Smith, James Parent, Dale Bedoud, Nancy Goodall, Bob Straith and of course, Chuckie Button. I hope I am spelling these names at least close to what they really were. It was a long time ago.
Two of the big events at Washington Grade School each year were the Square Dance Show and the Holiday Show. The square dance event was when our parents would come and see us dance. Mrs. Fort would have a real band come in so we were dancing to live music rather than
records. Also, she would select some of us to do the "calls" I was one of the callers and for the first time got to use a microphone. The dance that I called was "Oh Johnny Oh" and I can still remember all the words. I practiced it endlessly at home as it would have been horrific to forget the words in front of the audience.
The Holiday Show was of course in December. Since many of the students in my class were Jewish, we celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah. It was a lot of fun, and I was able to experience a lot of Jewish food, learn Hanukkah songs and play with a dradle. We had a show for the parents where we did a play, sang songs from both cultures and also acted out plays that I think were related to the songs, such as “Good King Wenceslas.” Most everyone enjoyed it and it was a good experience.
1st Row, L to R - Stuart Rose, Tommy Malden, Dale Bedoud, Billy Reid,
2nd Row, ?, ?, Judy Lunsky, Gloria Orloff, Pat Martin, Wanda?, Candy Davidson, Buchanan?, Janice Lunsky, Paul Snow.
3rd Row, Mr. Lamb, Bob Straith, Judy Jewitt, Anita Horvath maybe?, Pat Simpson, ?, Nancy Goodall, Mickey Handren, John Kennedy,
I spent a great deal of my time haunting various places on Washington Avenue and Main Street, and some others close by. These are the ones that I remember best. It was like a paradise to a little kid exploring his own little world.
Tresize’s was originally in a group of stores that were right next to my house. It was a combination candy and comic book store, plus they had some soda fountain style booths where you could sit and have a beverage. Mr. And Mrs. Tresize took a liking to me and treated me like their own. I spent a lot of my money in there, and when I didn’t have any money they would let me read the comics for free. I would sit on the floor and read them for hours. They were from England and from time to time would try to get me to drink some tea with milk in it. I thought it
was crazy when you had orange and grape soda on hand. But, since they were otherwise so nice to me, I pretended to like it. They eventually moved across the street to a small free standing building on the NE corner of Washington and Lincoln and just sold comic books. Along with Chuckie Button, I missed them the most when we moved to Birmingham.
When the Trecize’s moved, the old store was taken over by a couple named Martha and Ben. I don’t know their last names, but we always referred to the store as Martha and Ben’s. They sold pop, candy, bubblegum with trading cards and all that weird stuff that kids liked back then, like little wax bottles of colored sugared water, button candy on a roll, little metal pie plates filled with caramel-like substance that you ate with a little spoon, wax lips, and so forth. I remember buying those bubblegum packs that included a baseball card and desperately wanting an Al Kaline and never finding one. I did have about a dozen Marion Franconas that I was unable to trade for anything. Martha and Ben were also very nice people and used to take care of our house when we were on vacation. Our dog, Pinky liked them a lot since they would feed him when we were away. Their reward for doing this was to be able to watch our twelve-inch Motorola television which was one of the few TVs on the block at that time.
Dunn’s hobby shop was just a block away. It was owned by “Dusty” Dunn and was jam packed with stuff that I lusted after, such as cap guns, cap gun ammunition, model plane kits, and of lesser importance, camera equipment. It later became a chain of stores, but this was the first and only one at the time. Whenever I had any spare money from birthday or Christmas gifts, I would be down at Dunn’s picking out a cap gun.
Walker-Crawford Paint store was just down the block from us. It of course sold house paint, wallpaper and things to do with that, but more important to me, they also sold artists supplies. Since both my mom and myself were interested in drawing and painting we spent a lot of time in there. They always had just what you needed. Years later, around 1983 or so, I went in there with a friend who needed some paint. All of the employees looked a little on in years and after talking to them I discovered that they were the same ones that had been there when I was little. When I told them I was the little guy that used to ride by their door on my tricycle they knew right away who I was. Little Robbie Scott! When I confessed that I was the one that had shot out their neon sign with my slingshot thirty-some years before, they were truly aggravated and I thought they were going to call the police!
McKinley Moving and Storage was right next to Walker-Crawford. Howard and Bud McKinley were good friends of my parents and they lived right next door to Chuckie Button on Lincoln. The McKinleys had a cabin on Big Blue Lake near Grayling, Michigan. They let my parents use it on occasion. It was a really nice place, but had no utilities, so there were kerosene lanterns, a pump in the sink, and an outhouse. My brother and I got to sleep up in a loft that was accessible only by a ladder. I thought it was the coolest place in the universe, except for the outhouse which got pretty cold in the morning.
There was one incident involving the outhouse that still makes me laugh. This happened when I was about four years old. My dad loved to fish and the trips to the McKinley’s cabin gave him an opportunity to do just that. One morning he went out before sunrise and caught a nice large-mouth bass. He wanted to release it, but also wanted us kids to have a chance to admire it first, so he put it in a bucket of water and left it out on the porch. When I got up the first thing I would do was head for the outhouse, which I didn’t like as it was quite a ways away from the cabin and it was cold in the morning. On my way out my mother said “While you’re out there, take a peek in the bucket.” I was half asleep and of course misunderstood what she said and therefore relieved myself in the bucket without ever noticing that there was this poor fish in there. When I got back , my mother asked me what I thought. I responded “It’s a lot better than going all the way out to the outhouse!” My dad jumped out of his chair, got the fish into the sink and started pumping water through it’s mouth and gills in a form of fish CPR. I don’t recall if it survived the incident or not. I was just unhappy that I would no longer be allowed to use the bucket.
The McKinley’s had a storage room in their building that contained unclaimed objects that had been left there. I don’t know what the legal status of it was, but they apparently felt obligated to hold on to all of it for some length of time. It was a very large room and the stuff was piled up haphazardly around. It was boxes, furniture and the like. For some reason they thought it was okay for me to climb around in there like a mountaineer. It was an adventure to me and every now and then I would run into something interesting, like the German Luger and Army .45 that I found in a desk drawer. I went out and asked them if they knew what was in that desk. They said they knew that they were there but also knew that they were not loaded. I don’t think that would happen today.
Hullinger’s Real Estate was next to our house. It was owned by Marge and Dutch Hullinger who lived there with their family and ran the agency out of their home. They had four daughters, Gale, Inez, and the twins Judy and Jill. Gale was my brother’s age and I think might have been in the same class at Royal Oak High School as George. Inez was the next oldest and was a multi-talented girl. She was on the Auntie Dee Show on TV twice. Auntie Dee had a talent contest for kids every week on her show. Sort of a pre-cursor of American Idol, I guess. I don’t remember what you got if you won, but it was a big deal for a kid just to be on there. Inez appeared on the show as a baton twirler and also as a violin player. I remember she became very adept with the violin and I believe made it to the second chair of the Detroit Symphony. Pretty darn good. And she was very attractive if my memory is right. Judy and Jill were about my sister’s age. They were a couple of hellions and always up to something. I ran into Judy at a wake recently. She did not look a lot different than she did as a child. I think I would have recognized her if I hadn’t been told she was at the event. She didn’t remember a lot about me, but did have recollections of my sister who used to play with her and Jill.
Hagelstein’s Bakery was on the SW corner of Lincoln and Washington, right across the alley from my Grandpa Scott’s house. It is still there, but is not the same type of place as it was during my youth. I remember several things about it. First of all, they had the best chocolate éclairs in existence. I have never had any as good as those since. Maybe my taste buds have been jaded with age, but they were absolutely wonderful. Sometimes I just went in there to stare at the éclairs since I had usually already spent my money on comic books or cap guns. Secondly, once a week they baked salt rising bread. My Grandfather Scott loved it. The only trouble was it gave off a hideous odor while being baked which caused me to flee the area. Thirdly, like everyone else on Washington, they knew me very well and treated me kindly at all times.
Brown’s Creamery was south on Washington, across the street from Button’s. In addition to selling dairy products, they had a serpentine soda fountain counter which occupied most of the interior. It was a real treat to get my mother to take me in there. One of my most difficult decisions was deciding whether to have a chocolate malt, a chocolate soda, or a banana split. I usually went for the soda. Another wonderful place.
Dickson’s novelty store was on Eleven Mile Road just west of Washington. It seemed like a long way away, but it was a favorite place for Chuckie and me. They sold all sorts of magic tricks, gags, and best of all, great peashooters and dried peas for ammo. We both purchased these items and proceeded to have the mother of all peashooter battles in my yard. A few weeks later there were pea plants growing everywhere. A lot of the stuff that we bought there never seemed to work quite as well as we imagined, like sneezing powder, itching powder, etc. There was no end to it. Some of it would be banned today. I remember a little box with what looked like a speaker and a push button under the speaker. You were supposed to talk into the speaker and push the button rapidly with your thumb and hear your voice. In reality, the button had a needle in it that would puncture your thumb. Pretty funny joke. I also remember those "Chinese Finger Traps.” They were a tube woven out of reeds that you stuck your forefingers into. When you tried to pull your fingers out you were trapped. The harder you pulled the tighter it became. Of course, the solution was to relax and push your fingers together, but what little kid would figure that out right away?
There were three movie theaters in Royal Oak at this time. The Royal Oak, on 4th St., the Washington, on Washington Ave., and the Main, on Main Street. The Royal Oak and the Washington were “premium” theaters, very ornate and they had balconies. They would show first run movies. The Main was a much plainer operation and specialized in reruns for the most part. The balcony was generally open at the Royal Oak while it was not at the Washington. I remember coming out of the Men’s room which was on the landing between the main floor and the balcony and watching a kid buy a cup of pop from a vending machine and then walk up and pour it over the balcony on a startled person below. Maybe that is why the balcony was closed at the Washington. My Grandmother Ellis refused to go to the show at the Washington because she claimed someone had spit on her from he balcony. I thought that was pretty silly. Anyway, the movie theaters were an important venue for me and my friends. There was always a Saturday Matinee which was a great bargain and usually took up the whole afternoon. It would be comprised of a couple of features which were usually westerns, monster movies, space epics, etc., a serial and numerous cartoons. You never knew how many cartoons they were going to show. Every time a new one would start all the kids would cheer. It was important to consume as much junk food as possible at those matinees. Milk Duds, Juicy Fruits, Ju-Ju-Bees, popcorn, etc. Between all the other stores selling candy, ice cream and pop, and the movies, I spent a lot of time at the dentist. Mine was Doctor Ford who had an office right around the corner across from the Methodist Church. It seems I was in there all the time. But I digress. We would sit through all those movies, serials, and cartoons and then come out blinded by the light and with horrible headaches. But we couldn’t wait for the next week’s matinee since we had already seen the coming attractions. When I got to be a little older, I would go to the show in the evening, sometimes by myself. One Friday night in 1951, I went to the Washington Theater and saw “The Thing.” It scared the living daylights out of me. When I left the theater it was dark out. I walked all the way home on the road and under the streetlights. I didn’t want anything to do with walking by any alleys or dark spaces in between buildings where a monster might be lurking. I don’t think I got much sleep that night.
Once in a great while I would walk all the way to Ferndale and the Radio City movie theater if there was something on there that I really wanted to see, but I never felt very comfortable down there as it was not part of my regular turf.
There were two dime stores in Royal Oak, Kresges and Neisners. We always called them the "Five and Dimes.” They both were favorite haunts of mine since they were jam packed with stuff that I wanted and needed, such as the little plastic slingshots that got Chuckie and me into so much trouble which I won’t mention other than the neon sign at Walker-Crawford’s. Kresges was the “upscale” store while Neisners was considered a cut below for some reason, which I never understood. They both had really cool wooden floors and aisles and aisles of necessary equipment like squirt guns.
I have to admit a partiality for Neisners for one reason only. They had one of those three for a quarter photo machines. It was a magnet to a little kid and very entertaining if you had a quarter. I can remember exactly where it was on the South side of the building near a window. What you wanted to do was put your quarter in the slot and then start making as many weird faces as you could think of, hoping that at least one of them would be a keeper. It was just hilarious. A few years ago, Chuck Button sent me a picture that he found in a photo album that belonged to his parents. It was of him and me in the photo machine. It is extremely blurry, since we were probably moving and the quality of the lens was not so good, but I treasure it. That’s Chuckie on the right, me on the left.
There was a hardware store on Washington Ave. that was about a block or so north of us and across the street. I don’t remember what it was called. I was not real interested in going in it as there was no “kid’s stuff” in there, but I do remember taking cans of bacon grease down there and turning it in. I never understood what they did with it, but knew it had something to do with the war effort. Hilzinger’s Hardware was on Main Street and I remember it being larger and more elaborate. Chuck’s dad often would remark that he had to go to Hilzinger’s to pick up some tools or something.
Down Washington Avenue on the same side as the hardware store was Morelli’s Shoe repair. It was the place to go to get your shoes fixed or resoled or to get anything made out of leather sewed. I remember mostly how the place smelled of leather, polish, solvents, etc., which I really liked. Mr. Morelli had a son named Freddy who had a souped up 1950 Ford convertible. He came over to visit one day and offered to let my dad drive it. We all piled in, Freddy, my brother George, myself and dad at the wheel and with the top down. When he took off from the first light where we had stopped he burned a huge “patch of rubber” as we used to call it. My dad proclaimed that it was quite a car and Freddy could hardly stop laughing.
There were two shoe stores that I patronized in Royal Oak. The first was the Buster Brown store. I believe it was just down the road north from Dusty Dunn’s and on the same side of the street. I got all my shoes there for a while since, A) It was where my mother always took me, B) They specialized in long wearing kid’s shoes, and C) I used to watch the Buster Brown Show on TV, and if I am not mistaken, listened to it on the radio also. Smilin’ Ed McConnel and Froggy the Gremlin. So, I felt an obligation to go there. “That’s my dog Tige! He lives in a shoe! I’m Buster Brown! Look for me in there too.” I mean, how could I not want to go there?
The other shoe store was Julius Brothers. They were not too far down from Buster Brown. When I started getting older and more conscious of what I was wearing, I started going to their place. The most memorable thing about that particular store was their X-Ray machine. You would put your feet in it and you could look at an X-Ray view of how well your toes fit it there. It was quite a sales device. Who knows how much damage those radioactive rays were doing to us and especially their employees. They were right there for the viewing and did not stand behind lead barriers or go into another room like they do now at the dentist’s office.
My brother, who was older, more fashion conscious and more mobile than me, used to drive down to Flagg Brother’s for his shoes. It was on South Woodward, maybe in Detroit. I remember him wearing those ridiculous looking boxcar loafers, which he thought were really cool. Maybe they were, but the real deal at the Flagg Brother’s was their Flagg Fliers. “Flip they’re open, flap they’re shut. New Flagg Flyers.” Wow! No shoe laces, no zippers. Just that spring loaded flap. Now they were cool, but not for a ten year old.
There were two Army Surplus stores in downtown Royal Oak. Since there had been a war recently, there were all kinds of neat stuff in there to either look at or buy if you had any money. And it was all relatively cheap. I recall having to have a gas mask that I needed when we played "space games.” It was as close to a space helmet that I could get at the time and went well with my Buck Rogers ray gun which had a flashlight and buzzer that went off when you pulled the trigger. A few years later I discovered that the surplus stores in Royal Oak were small potatoes. Mike Rich’s dad took us to Silversteins, which I believe was on 8 Mile Road somewhere. It was about the size of two football fields and they had everything under the sun in that place. I was so overcome that I thought I would faint. It was like going to Heaven. I bought a bolo knife and sheath and a chest microphone that hung from a harness that you wore on your shoulders. I considered them essential. I think I felt I needed the bolo knife for when Chuckie and I went to the “War Field.”
The War Field was near the corner of Lincoln and Woodward on the NE corner. It was a large vacant field that had been used as a playfield by various kids for many years. There were all kinds of foxholes and shelters that had been dug and constructed by enterprising little battle engineers over the years, thus the name War Field. We would have all sorts of imagined battles that were carefully choreographed for maximum realism. I needed the bolo knife for hacking my way through jungle growth. I never cut myself or anyone else with it, by the way. Years later I drove by the War Field and noticed there were buildings being constructed there. It made me a little sad, but that’s progress.
There used to be a large vacant field at the corner of Lincoln and Lafayette. Every winter, after the first snow, the city would send a bulldozer over and they would plow up a huge rectangular bank. Then the fire department would come over and flood the area which would freeze and create a gigantic skating rink able to accommodate hundreds of skaters. It was a wonderful resource and we spent a lot of time there careening around and trying to irritate the girls from our class at Washington Elementary. I remember having to use hand-me-down skates that were way too big and with newspaper tucked in the toes. So, I was mostly skating on my ankles, which is not so hot. I think my folks did not want to buy new skates every year for growing feet. The first time I actually got a real pair of hockey skates that actually fit me was like a passing into manhood ritual.
That field was used for a lot of other things when it was warm. There was a baseball diamond on it and a lot of room, so we just hung out there a lot and played. My brother taught me how to ride my first two-wheel bike there. I guess he figured it was a lot safer than having me trying this where there were cars nearby. I crashed a lot and for some reason could not avoid the pitcher’s mound where there was a big spike that was intended to secure the pad that was for the pitcher to brace his foot. It continually caused me to crash until I finally got the hang of turning down pat. One day builders arrived and erected a brand new St. Mary’s church on the field, so that was the end of it. Chuckie and I were irate, but we didn’t own the field.
The Detroit Zoo was an easy walk from where we lived. The only obstacle was getting across Woodward Avenue which did not seem to be a problem back then. Entrance for a youngster was either free or very cheap, so getting in was not a problem either. At that time of my life the Zoo seemed like it was impossibly huge. And we never knew where we were at any given time once we had wandered away from the entrance. This was okay, as we knew if we kept walking we would eventually run into something that we recognized and get back on track. I always loved anything to do with science and animals so I never tired of going there. Years later, after not having been in there for a long time, I decided to go to the Zoo and try out a new telephoto lens that I had bought. I figured animals would be a good subject for that. I was amazed to find that everything was quite similar to what I had remembered, except a lot smaller in size. I realized that it was a matter of perspective between a young lad and an adult. It was a strange feeling. The same thing happened when I went back to YMCA camp during my high school skip day. Chuckie and I had been there when we were about nine years old. Everything looked the same, just smaller.
If you wanted to get a new Schwinn or other bike, or needed to get yours fixed, or needed parts or tires or accessories, the only place to go was Red Glaspies. He was the bike guy. His store was right near Buttons on a side street off of Washington. I remember there were kids that would hang out there. They were probably the same guys who hung out at a garage after they got their licenses.
There was, and is, an alley that runs perpendicular to Washington Avenue that bordered on the rear of our yard. There were maybe three or four houses on the block, and the rest of the structures were of a commercial nature. Consequently, there was all kinds of neat trash out there, especially if a store did some house cleaning and threw out a bunch of stuff that was deemed valueless. All that valueless junk was treasure to me. In spite of constant lectures from my parents warning me not to go through other people’s trash, I just couldn’t help myself. Once in a great while, when I’m in the area I’ll drive down that alley and I get a nostalgic high.
On the other side of the alley was the St. Mary’s Church complex. There were several buildings and to this day I have never been inside any of them. There was a school in there too, but we never interacted with the kids there, except for when they would take a shortcut through our yard to get to Martha and Ben’s. It angered my father as they were wearing a path in our lawn. So my brother and I would throw water balloons at the trespasser until they finally got the picture. I know that discipline in the Catholic school was stricter than what we faced at Washington. Now and then I would see a red-faced kid emerge with a handprint on his cheek where he got slapped by one of the nuns. The priests all seemed like good fellows and now and then one would sneak over to our house for a drink or two with my parents. Ironically, some time after we moved, our house was torn down and they built the St. Mary’s Credit Union on the site. A sad day for me.
At some point in time, and after I had mastered my two-wheeled bike, our parents decided it was safe for Chuckie and me to take a “bike hike.” Our mothers packed us lunches and discussed our route with us to make sure that it was familiar enough to us so we wouldn’t get lost, and off we went. We rode down Washington to Crooks, and then went north on Crooks to where Kimball High School was eventually built. Back then it was all fields. And it seemed like we had rode a hundred miles. It’s possible that the first time we did this my brother came along too, but I am not sure. Anyway, we made it back home safely after consuming our lunches. I remember thinking that it would be significant if we had a campfire as that is what explorers would do, but I don’t believe we did. We probably would have set the whole field on fire. I do remember that I was pretty tired out from the whole experience.
There was a chain of gas stations in Oakland County called Oak Gasoline. Jake Levy, who was my grandfather’s best friend, owned them. They had quite a bit in common. Both were entrepreneurs, had great business sense, and both had made a lot of money. I think Jake made a lot more than my Grandfather, but neither one was hurting. Jake took a liking to my brother and I and used to stop by now and then. He always would stop by on Christmas and leave each of us five silver dollars. He was probably hoping that we would save the money and let it grow, but I was always down at Dunn’s the day after looking at cap guns. My dad would buy his gas at Jake’s stations and occasionally I would be along. If it was at his main headquarters on Main Street I would go inside and say hello. He was usually at his desk with a huge safe behind him with the door wide open. And it was always full of money, mostly coins in rolls. I could never figure why he left that door open all the time as I thought eventually someone would go in there and try to rob him. That finally happened and Jake took care of the guy with his double barrel shotgun that he kept behind the desk. I remember seeing him being interviewed on television after the incident. He said something about a man having to protect what was his, so he let him have both barrels. This is the same guy who was so afraid of dogs that he spent the night in his car in the garage after discovering that a dog was in the garage with him after he had shut the powered garage door. Jake was a really nice guy and appreciated the simpler things at times. One time he invited us out to some property that he owned in Rochester. It was down in the low area that you can see from the overpass on Rochester Road when you are going north into town. He had an artesian well there and liked to drink the water from it. He built a fire; we cooked some hot dogs and drank well water. Jake was famous for being able to get gasoline to sell during the war when it was hard to obtain. I think he had some special way of finding sidetracked rail cars or something. Also, he always gave you a gift when you filled up your tank. It would be a bag of sugar or a jar of jelly or something like that. It was his trademark. There was a family story about when my grandfather used to make beer in his basement. The jugs and equipment were still down there when he passed away. He and Jake were supposedly rolling a keg of beer down the alley on a hot day, intending to take it to a barn or something where they could tap it and have some beers. The keg exploded and the beer was wasted. This was probably during prohibition. It’s what I was told anyway. I wasn’t there so can not testify to its truthfulness.
I forgot to mention Billings Feed Store. I always liked to go in there because it smelled so good. And they had those huge bins of dog food and dog biscuits near the front door. I loved dog biscuits and liked to munch on them. Another of my weird affectations. So, whenever I went past Billings I would go in and snag a biscuit. They never said a thing.
Since it went through the center of town, the railroad tracks and the trains that traveled on it were impossible to ignore. Plus there would be an incident now and then when a car would get in the way and the train would win the confrontation. I always viewed the tracks with mixed emotions. I was afraid of the trains, but some of the places I wanted to go to were on the other side. Also, I had heard stories of people putting pennies on the tracks and after the train went by the pennies were the size of quarters. So, one day I decided to test the penny flattening theory. I went to the tracks where they passed over Lincoln road and carefully looked down both directions to make sure there were no trains anywhere in sight. I then pulled some pennies out of my pocket and began carefully placing them on the tracks. Right about then the warning bell went off, which would mean there was a train nearby. I jumped straight up in the air and the next thing I remember was being about a half block down Lincoln running at top speed. I finally stopped and turned around and noticed that there was no train going by. But there was a guy up in a tower next to the tracks laughing so hard he could hardly stand up. Score one for the other guy.
Our house on Washington was pretty old. I'm not sure when it was built, but I remember when we had a coal burning furnace and a coal chute that went into the basement. Our hot water heater did not have a thermostat. If you wanted hot water, my dad would go downstairs, turn on the gas and light the burner. When you no longer needed hot water he would go back down and turn it off. One weekend we went away for a short vacation. Probably a Friday-Sunday affair. When we got home and went into our house, someone turned on the cold-water tap to get a drink. Nothing but steam emerged. No water, just violent steam. It then dawned on my father that he had left the hot water heater on all weekend and it was not good to be in the house. He had us all go out to the back yard and then I presume went down to turn off the burner. He then joined us in the back yard and was wondering what to do to ease the situation. I'm not sure how the steam got in the cold water pipes, but I presume that it backed up into the incoming water supply and then traveled around the house plumbing system trying to find an outlet. Then my dad got the idea of turning on the hose to let off the pressure. The hose was already attached to the outside faucet and was coiled up on the ground below it. When the faucet was turned on, the hose uncoiled and started whipping and snapping around the back yard like a supernatural demon with steam whistling out at high velocity. We all got back out of range and watched it for some time with fascination. My brother and I were wondering why we couldn't do this every weekend. The steam finally stopped but the hose was destroyed, one end being shredded. I think we upgraded to a thermostat soon after.
During the war, my mother got the idea that since meat was going to be scarce we should raise rabbits for food. I'm not sure us kids realized what they were intended to be used for, but we were ecstatic to have all these new pets. We never kept the car in the garage anyway, so it was to become the rabbit house. My dad made rows of cages that were elevated off the ground and my mother read books about raising rabbits and also consulted with someone at the pet store. Soon we had a bunch of rabbits. We kids decided that they should have names and preceded to name each one of them with cute names like Thumper and Fawn, etc. Our back yard was fenced in so my brother and I could let a rabbit or two loose and play with them. We discovered that an alley cat is no match for a buck rabbit. One day we had one of the rabbits out and a big cat came creeping in the yard with the intention of attacking the rabbit from behind. He made his leap and was caught with a powerful hind kick that knocked him for a somersault. He tried again with the same result and finally left our yard. Rabbit two, cat zero. One day my mother, who was a really good cook, served us dinner. There was some strange meat on our table that we did not recognize. We asked our mother what it was and she told us to be quite and eat our dinner. One of us finally got the courage to ask if it was rabbit. Yes, it's rabbit she replied. Is it Thumper we asked? No, it's not Thumper. Is if Fawn? No, it's not Fawn. We proceeded with a litany of names until we got the right one. Yes, it's him, was the reply. Then everyone started crying and asked to be excused from the dinner table. So, the rabbit for food plan did not work out. Easter wasn't too far away, so the week before they set up a stand in the front yard with a sign that said "Easter Bunnies for Sale." They sold every one of them for a dollar apiece. The empty cages were in our garage until we moved.
The three oldest things that I can remember are the first day of Kindergarten and VE Day and VJ Day. As I mentioned, I met Chuckie Button that day in Kindergarten. I remember VE Day since my brother George fell out of a cherry tree in my Grandpa Ellis' back yard and severely broke his elbow. He also landed on a chicken that was in my Grandfather's chicken coop and had blood from the smashed chicken all over him as he was running around the yard screaming in pain. I guess it scared the daylights out of my mother as she thought it was his blood. It was bad enough that he broke his elbow which still cannot be straightened.
On VJ Day, we were home when it was announced and people were outside celebrating and some of them were walking up and down Washington Ave. shooting guns up in the air. Try doing that today. I was a little unnerved until my dad got his own 12 gauge Remington pump out of the closet and fired it up in the air too. Then it seemed okay.
Now and then I think about what a different time it was, and how different people were then. I used to ride my tricycle up and down the sidewalk of our block and my mother didnüft have to be with me. I used to go on bike hikes, or long walks to the Zoo or to my relatives homes many blocks away when I was very young. We lived on the main drag and there was an alley behind our home, but we never locked our doors, even when we were away. It probably would be better if Chuckie Button and I were not allowed to have sling shots, bows and arrows, fireworks, sparklers, chemistry sets, matches and all of the other "dangerous stuff" that we played with, but we are still in one piece and haven't killed anyone. I don't think we were just lucky, which we were, but I think it was because our parents trusted us to use our common sense and left if at that. After all, later on they had to trust us with the car keys when we turned 16, and we didn't kill ourselves with cars either.
As I mentioned, we moved to Birmingham when I was thirteen and I lived there while going to high school and college and a couple years afterwards. Then I moved to Royal Oak again when I was teaching school and lived on N. Center in a duplex just north of 12 Mile. When I married Diane, we lived for about four years in the Tower Court Apartments in Royal Oak. Then bought houses in Beverly Hills, Farmington Hills and currently in West Bloomfield. If someone asks me where I am from, I always preface it with "I started out in Royal Oak and it was a great place to grow up." That is truly from the heart.